Managing employees with mental health issues
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It’s an obvious statement that businesses do better when their employees are happy and healthy. However, it’s highly likely that at some point you’ll come across members of your staff who are experiencing mental health issues.

When this happens, it’s essential that you make a reasonable effort to help and support the individual, not just to maintain performance and productivity for your business, but also to establish a positive company culture.

While employers are usually confident in managing an employee with a physical ailment, many still feel awkward or unprepared for dealing with mental health issues among their staff. However, even a small amount of encouragement and understanding goes a long way to helping employees continue a successful career.

In this article, we’ll take you through the process of managing an employee with mental health issues and arm you with the tools you’ll need to help them perform at their best.

We’ll cover the following steps:

1) Be proactive

2) Spot the signs of mental health issues

3) Talk to your employee

4) Make reasonable adjustments

5) Communicate with the wider team

6) Absence due to mental ill-health

7) Returning to work

Be proactive

From the outset, it’s important that your staff know your stance on mental health. You’ll need to show them, through an accessible mental health policy, regular catch-ups and a caring attitude, that as an employer you value mental health just as much as physical health.

If you have an employee assistance programme, make sure all team members know how to access it. Make clear that bullying and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated, and always make time to listen and work through any problems that employees raise.

If people know they’ll be able to access support quickly when needed, this could stop their mental health issues from becoming worse. For this reason, businesses should have clear, confidential channels in place to allow employees to seek help. Consider having one of your team trained as a mental health first aider for extra support.

Signs of mental health issues

In order to tackle employee mental health issues as early as possible, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the common signs. As you’ll likely be seeing members of staff on a regular basis, you’ll probably be able to tell fairly quickly if their behaviour starts to change.

Signs of mental illness can include:

  • changes in mood or how they interact with colleagues/customers
  • inability to focus on tasks or maintain their usual standard of work
  • tiredness, stress or general lack of enthusiasm
  • changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking
  • frequent sickness absence or lateness.

Of course, an employee can have mental health issues without showing any of the above signs. Although mental health awareness has improved in recent years, there can still be a perceived or real stigma which might make employees feel they have to hide the problems they’re having.

For this reason, it’s even more important to regularly check in with all your employees about how they’re doing, and make sure they’re aware they have your support and understanding if they ever wanted to talk.

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Get help looking after your employees

Speak to our HR experts about supporting staff with mental health issues.


Organise a chat

If you suspect that an employee might be experiencing problems with their mental health, invite them for an informal chat (try to avoid calling it a meeting) to discuss how they’re doing.

Ideally the chat would take place outside of the office environment – maybe in a nearby café where the employee feels able to talk more freely.

It’s vital to remain open-minded, allow the person as much time as they need and really listen to what they say, without making any assumptions. Let them know that anything they say will be confidential and that you’re there to help, but don’t pressure the individual into revealing anything they don’t want to.

If there is a work-related trigger or cause for the employee’s mental health issues, then try to identify it and think of some possible solutions. Ask the individual if they have been accessing professional support through their GP or any other services and what this looks like.

When coming up with an action plan for the future, remember that the employee themselves is the best source of knowledge for what they need. It may be that they feel absolutely well enough to continue working but would benefit from some minor adjustments. They may need more flexibility within their role, or to take a leave of absence to get back on track.

Remain supportive and work with them to come up with a viable course of action. It is sensible to ensure you have up-to-date next of kin details and are aware of any particular action the employee would like you to take if they experience ill health at work.

Making reasonable adjustments

Continuing to work can be really helpful to an employee’s mental health and this is recognised by the medical profession. If your employee is able to continue working, then you could consider making reasonable adjustments to their role to aid their recovery.

Remember that if any employee has a health condition covered by the Equality Act, i.e. is considered to be a disability, then you are obliged as an employer to consider making reasonable adjustments to help them overcome this disadvantage.

Reasonable adjustments can include:

  • having more rest breaks
  • working from home
  • flexible hours
  • a quieter workspace
  • not having to interact with customers
  • ability to take leave at short notice
  • lessening responsibility/workload
  • extra training
  • more regular and positive feedback.

All adjustments should be led by and agreed to by the employee before being implemented. It’s important that the individual doesn’t feel like they’re being treated any differently or being micro-managed, as this will likely make them feel worse. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t – their work should still be engaging and challenging, if they feel able to do it.

Be sure to monitor the employee, but not in a way that makes them feel like you’re watching their every move. Keep notes of how they’re doing, any adjustments that have been made and review the situation regularly. Agree all note-taking with the individual in line with data protection laws.

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Remember the wider team

Obviously, you shouldn’t reveal details about an employee’s mental health issues without their consent, but if the individual chooses to share what they’re going through with their colleagues, be prepared to offer support to the wider team.

Your staff may find it distressing that their colleague is suffering with their mental health, or it may even encourage them to come forward with their own issues. Make sure to check in with all employees and again, make it clear that you’re always available to talk.

This may be a good time to check that all staff training is up-to-date on mental health-related issues, such as bullying and harassment. This will make clear that any form of discrimination is unacceptable within your business and will hopefully make employees feel more confident in coming forward with their problems.

Absence due to mental health

Despite your best efforts at making adjustments, it may be that they still need to take a period of sickness absence in order to take care of their mental health.

It’s important that you continue to support your employee even when they’re absent from work, in order to avoid isolating them from the team and hopefully encourage a successful return.

While the employee is off sick, you should:

  • keep in regular contact with the employee, but don’t bombard them with calls or emails
  • stay positive and understanding of their situation
  • keep written records of their sickness absence
  • agree what the individual would like their colleagues to know about their absence
  • not pressure the team member to return to work before they feel ready
  • seek advice from the employee’s GP (if they give permission) or Occupational Health about how you can support the team member when they return to work.

In this situation, the right level of contact is key. Too little may make the employee feel they’ve been forgotten; too much may be overwhelming and cause them more stress. The individual themselves will be the best person to decide how much contact is best. Avoid making assumptions on the colleague’s behalf, such as by not inviting them to company social events.

Read about long-term sickness absence.

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Get help looking after your employees

Speak to our HR experts about supporting staff with mental health issues.


Return to work

If your team member decides in conjunction with their medical advisor that they’re ready to return to work, it’s important that you prepare beforehand to help them integrate back into the workplace.

A return to work interview is a great way of getting the employee back up to speed with what’s been happening in their absence, as well as reassuring them that you’re glad they’re back.

Be sure to ask how the employee is feeling, and double check that they feel well enough to return. Discuss any reasonable adjustments that can be made to ease their first few weeks or months and give them time to ask any questions or make any suggestions.

Monitor your team member’s return in a way that doesn’t feel obtrusive and remind them that you’re there to support them. Ensure that they’re included in social arrangements as well as professional tasks, such as lunch plans or after-work drinks.

To sum up

When it comes to managing mental health in the workplace, remember the following:

  • have a clear and comprehensive mental health policy
  • let employees know that you’re there to support them
  • organise an informal chat with employees who are struggling
  • keep in contact with anyone on sickness absence
  • ease their return to work by making reasonable adjustments

Get HR Support

If you have a member of staff struggling with mental health issues and would like some advice on how to support them, our HR consultants can help.

Get in touch on or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about how we can help your business with friendly, expert HR support.


The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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